Vetting Therapists for the Sheriff’s Office

Quality, culturally competent psychological services must be available to law enforcement personnel when the need arises

Cordico CEO, Dr. David Black, wrote the article “Vetting Therapist for the Sheriff’s Office” that was featured in January / February  2020 issue of  Sheriff & Deputy Magazine.  The digital version of the magazine can be found here.  The text of the article is listed below.

Sheriff ’s offices throughout the United States lack sufficient access to culturally competent law enforcement therapists. The lack of quality care is unjust, is untenable, and can contribute to disastrous outcomes—including the risk of suicides. We must do better for our nation’s heroes. Providing confidential access to competent law enforcement therapists is a common-sense strategy that can strengthen law enforcement wellness, resilience, morale, and retention.

Last year, a survey revealed that law enforcement officers experienced overwhelmingly stressful and traumatic events on the job that impacted their mental health, with 90% adding that law enforcement’s culture creates barriers to seeking emotional help. No such stigma exists with regard to shoulder or leg injuries, and it is time to eliminate the stigma from seeking help for emotional and behavioral health issues.

“Law enforcement’s culture creates barriers to seeking emotional help”

We need to convey that it is “OK to not be OK,” and encourage those who serve to get the help they need, when they need it. We must also ensure that high-quality services are available for law enforcement personnel who dedicate their professional lives to serving and protecting communities throughout the United States. Research reveals that the majority of LEOs who use employee assistance programs (EAPs) find them to be unhelpful. Stories abound of law enforcement heroes who have dedicated their careers to responding for others in need of help, only to be provided with a list of poorly qualified therapists after reaching out for support in their own time of need.

Cultural Competence

Vetting therapists to ensure they are culturally competent to work with law enforcement is critical. The good news is that cultural competence can improve over time if therapists participate in ride-alongs, pursue additional education, and seek appropriate supervision. When vetting a therapist’s cultural competence to support sheriff ’s office personnel and their families, it is important to consider:

  • Experience with law enforcement
  • Attitudes towards law enforcement
  • Familiarity with law enforcement culture
  • Motivation to work with law enforcement
  • Therapeutic skill working specifically with law enforcement
  • Ability and willingness to support law enforcement in times of crisis.

Research demonstrates that high-quality, experienced therapists generate significantly better results, offering resolutions to patient problems and alleviating symptoms more quickly. In contrast, less qualified therapists tend to make their clients’ outcomes worse— and not just occasionally, but in the majority of their cases.

An assessment of therapist quality should include basics such as licensure status, insurance, and reputation. But the following should also be factors in assessing therapist competence:

  • Empathy
  • Judgment
  • Professionalism
  • Emotional stability
  • Practice history
  • Clinical assessment skills
  • Use of empirically validated treatments
  • Domains of professional competence and specialization
  • Ability to quickly form trust-based, therapeutic relationships.

Availability and Responsiveness

While therapist quality and competence in working with law enforcement are critical, the most culturally competent and high-quality therapists are of little value if they aren’t available when your office needs them. Important factors to consider here include:

  • Timeliness in returning phone calls for new referrals
  • Openness to accepting new law enforcement referrals
  • Timeliness in returning phone calls for current and past clients
  • Updating of voicemail when the practice is full or the therapist is unavailable
  • Responsiveness to urgent requests from the sheriff ’s office.

Confidentiality and Discretion

Concerns about privacy and confidentiality constitute major barriers to law enforcement seeking help in times of need. In fact, when asked what factors would keep them from seeking help from a therapist, most deputies cite confidentiality as their No.1 concern. Fortunately, state and federal laws provide extensive protections for health care client confidentiality. When vetting therapists for confidentiality, consider:

  • Knowledge of laws governing client confidentiality
  • Practices to ensure discretion and confidentiality
  • Types of clients seen other than law enforcement
  • Office layout and waiting room configuration
  • Social media history and practices.

Tech-assisted Solutions

Many sheriff ’s offices use agency-customized law enforcement wellness apps to find and access culturally competent, vetted law enforcement therapists, as well as peer support, law enforcement chaplains, and a multitude of additional sheriff wellness resources.

For example, CordicoShield features a therapist finder tool that geo-tags vetted therapists on an interactive map, displaying the geographic proximity of therapists and short profiles outlining clinical specializations such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and experience working with law enforcement. The technology also allows LEOs to interact with therapists via encrypted video, protecting information covered by privacy laws and allowing even sheriff ’s personnel in remote or underserved locations to talk to qualified therapists.

Technology is playing a critical role in helping many sheriff ’s offices ensure their staff have access to vetted therapists, and its use in expanding therapist access and improving law enforcement wellness continues to grow. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recently released a report listing 10 actions that law enforcement agencies should take to prevent suicides, and highlighted CordicoShield among its recommendations.

Peer Support

Peer support should include specially trained law enforcement colleagues who provide emotional support and practical assistance to their peers during times of need. Peers may offer support in the form of hospital visitations, death notifications, and critical incident on-scene and follow-up support, as well as assistance with relationships, family issues, and career-related stressors.

Peers can conduct clinician office visits to help vet therapists, and provide referrals to trusted professional resources. It is also important to train peers using reputable providers, such as The Counseling Team International (www.thecounselingteam. com), which has provided training for thousands of peer support personnel throughout the nation.

Ensuring that your sheriff ’s office has access to high-quality, culturally competent therapists should be a top priority. Establish these valuable resources now, so that they are available to your personnel and their families during their times of need. By using the guidelines outlined in this article and assistance from trusted professional resources, we can make great strides in ensuring that those who serve and protect their communities have the emotional and personal support they need to thrive throughout their careers.

About  the National Sheriffs’ Association

Chartered in 1940, the National Sheriffs’ Association is a professional association dedicated to serving the Office of Sheriff and its affiliates through law enforcement education and training, and through the provision of general law enforcement informational resources. NSA represents thousands of sheriffs, deputies and other law enforcement, public safety professionals, and concerned citizens nationwide.

About Dr. David Black

Dr. David Black is the Founder, CEO, and Chief Psychologist of Cordico, serving hundreds of public safety agencies nationally. He is a Board Member of the National Sheriffs’ Association Psychological Services Group, serves as the Chair of Technology and Social Media, is an Advisory Board Member for the National Police Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies, serves on the IACP Police Psychological Services Ethics Committee, served on IACP committees tasked with updating Officer-Involved Shooting and Fitness-for-Duty standards, serves on the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Officer Wellness Committee, serves on the California Police Chiefs’ Association Human Behind the Badge Initiative, and is an Officer Wellness subject matter expert for the California Commission on POST. Dr. Black has been serving law enforcement since 2002.